Does Water Really Expire?

James Walton
By James Walton October 30, 2018 08:47

Does Water Really Expire?

Waterborne illness is the number one killer on the planet. That is happening right now. While we are nestled in a cozy world of convenience many have to forgo school and wake up early each day just to walk miles for tainted, stained and disgusting water, in order to survive another day.

This same water will actually kill them if they are not careful about sanitizing it properly. It happens every day, and it happens mostly to children.

As preppers we understand the importance of clean water and how quickly the tap can run dry. Most major disasters are going to shut off water and shock the unprepared public. We see this during earthquakes and hurricanes all the time. The bottled water is one of the first things to disappear off shelves.

One of the most commonsense reactions to the way water supplies dry up in a crisis is to start buying your own supply when the sun is shining and disaster is far away. In this comfortable climate water can be had for a few dollars a case. Of course, storing bottled water comes with its own set of risks and issues.



Cases of water take up considerable space. Now, if you keep two cases at home it may not be that big a deal, but what does two cases of 20-ounce water bottles mean for survival of a family of four? These two cases will give you 7.5 gallons of water in total. That’s not even a full two days of water by the one gallon of water per person per day standard.

To achieve three weeks supply of water for a family of four, you would need 23 cases of water. Now that is a different space requirement.


Obviously, the weight becomes an issue at 23 cases. As with most things regarding water we often have a gross underestimate of what its really going to take.

One of the often unspoken issues with bottled water is that kids, wives, husbands and anyone else is tempted to tamper with those bottles. They want to take one to the gym or to the field. After a while your stockpile starts to deplete and that can be dangerous.

Related: Disinfect Huge Amounts Of Water With This Common Household Item

Container Types

waterPlastic Bottled Water

The water in the bottle has an indefinite shelf life. If not for the breakdown of the plastic, you could rely on bottled water to sustain you indefinitely. If the bottle has been opened that would be a different story. Of course, improper storage like serious temperature fluctuations and crushing weight can cause these bottles to open even when they appear closed.

Plastic presents a lot of challenges because the bottle itself will change over time. The seal will get compromised under bad conditions, and the water inside could become contaminated from the plastic leeching into the water.

BPA (Bisphenol A) is a chemical produced in large quantities for use primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins.

Why is there such interest in BPA?

Some exploratory scientific studies that have appeared in the public literature raise questions about the safety of ingesting the low levels of BPA that can migrate into food from food contact materials.

To address these questions the National Toxicology Program (NTP), partnering with FDA’s NCTR, has been carrying out in-depth studies to answer key questions and clarify uncertainties about BPA.

Of course, these studies will never reflect the long-term, poor storage conditions that most preppers are going to be utilizing with their bottled water.

The BPA in bottled water will certainly affect the quality of the water over time, but it’s a double-edged sword. When the time comes that you need that water I’m going to guess that BPA will be the last thing on your mind.

Glass bottled Water

Glass bottled water is one of the very best ways to keep water and most other liquids. Glass is an incredible container and completely natural. It will not breakdown and it will not compromise the seal on the product.

When glass containers are being mishandled they just crack or break. It’s very easy to diagnose. One of the big issues with glass containers is storage and the space it takes to keep a lot of water around. Also, glass bottled water is sold at a much higher price point than simple plastic bottles.

Canned water

Canned water has a reported shelf life of around 30-50 years. While you might think this is a decidedly prepper-friendly product, canned water has also become very popular as a disaster preparedness choice for schools, hospitals, government agencies and public institutions.

As the food safety manager at a food bank I was tasked with discerning the true shelf life of varieties of canned foods. There is always time beyond that best buy date unless the can is damaged. That means this canned water is going to be good even beyond 50 years.

Now, if you institute any kind of minimal rotation you will never reach even a 30 year shelf life on this water.

Related: Storing Water for When Disaster Happens

Types Of Water

Shelf Life of Tap Water

There are many ways to store the tap water you have unlimited access to. What most people don’t understand about tap water is that it has the potential to grow harmful bacteria over time. Sunlight can affect the chlorine levels in the water. If the chlorine levels are too low that bacteria will be able to grow, and it will continue to grow over time.

This means the water may have to be treated again or it could grow so much bacteria that it will look and taste horrible and could make you sick.

You also need to consider what you will store tap water in, and there are many options. WaterBricks are one of the best because they are designed for long-term water storage.

Shelf Life of Distilled Water

Distilled water is going to be the purest water source you can store. That is not always a good thing, of course. It will be void of trace minerals that the body needs.

As the air hits the distilled water, naturally the conductivity of the water will increase over time and some contamination will occur. However, due to the purity of distilled water, the contamination that will occur will be minimal compared to normal mineral water.

In saying this, the container you store your distilled water in will inevitably prolong or deteriorate the shelf life of your water. For example, plastic containers can seep unwanted chemicals into distilled water and reduce its quality at a rapid rate. Source

Shelf Life of Mineral Water

Mineral water is an incredible product, because it contains essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, manganese and copper. Distilled water and tap water will not have these minerals at high levels. Minerals are something that most preppers don’t consider as they stock the pantry with canned foods.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the water within the container is going to stand up to the test of time. The one advantage that most mineral waters have over tap water and distilled is that it is often bottled in glass. That means you have a vessel that is much safer for long term storage. Mineral water will not have the bacterial content of tap water and so you will be able to store it longer without worry.

The truth of the matter is that water doesn’t go bad. This is particularly true when it is stored properly and in the right containers. That said, your preparedness plan for water should be diverse. While storing bottled water is one part of the equation, you should also have a water filtering option, identify local water sources, catch as much rain as possible and learn how to find water in the wild.

Like all things in prepping there is not one surefire answer to any problem. Water is no different. Not only will you want multiple sources but also having methods to sanitize that water will be necessary.

Still, to make an immediate impact on your water situation, a $20 bill and a corner of the basement or temperature controlled room can make a big difference in your preparedness level. This is base that you can expand on with what you have learned.

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James Walton
By James Walton October 30, 2018 08:47
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  1. Cy October 30, 14:33

    Store your water in containers that rats can’t eat through even if you don’t have rats. You never know what type of pest problems you may have a few years down the road. Be prepared for every type of invader.

    Reply to this comment
    • USA-Eagleparadise October 1, 14:10

      I had 5 gallon water contsiners, rats,ate the seals! They got through a semi open window and they tore the screen. Ate all plastic containers with stored food, it was a nightmare to come home to.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Dave October 30, 15:06

    Is water that has been put through a RO process safer to store longer

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck October 30, 18:24

      I am not a water treatment technician nor a microbiologist, but I believe that reverse osmosis only removes chemicals and bacteria. I do not believe it removes viruses. In fact, many filters only do that. They just filter, they do not purify. There is a significant difference in the use of the two terms. If you are going to rely on filters, you must rely on ones that state that they purify the water, not ones that fudge around with the terminology and use every adjective and verb except the magic word “purify.”

      You will read that a filter removes 99.99% of the bacteria. That is to protect against predatory lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits to gain settlement money. They can’t say that they remove 100% because one bacterium somehow managing to slip through negates the 100%. I used to buy 99% isopropyl alcohol. They couldn’t call it 100% because as soon as one removed the cap, oxygen dissolved into the IPA and so it was no longer 100% IPA.

      That said. To answer your question more directly, water run through a RO will, if stored in the same conditions as plain tap water, “last longer” than plain tap water stored under identical conditions.

      Is the water “bad”? No. The water can be restored to healthful condition if it is raised to 165°F. That is called Pasteurization. Most treatise on water treatment recommend raising the water to a roiling boil. This insures that the water has reached 165° for the requisite period of time. It is the safe yardstick to use in purifying water. If you are relying on reaching 165° you need to accurately measure the water temperature with an accurate thermometer. A roiling boil where bubbles are breaking the surface of the water insures that you have reached the critical temperature, even at higher altitudes. It isn’t necessary to boil water for ten minutes or twenty minutes as you sometimes read in some publications. That is a waste of time, water and fuel.

      So you might ask yourself, “He started his comment out with the statement that he wasn’t a water treatment technician nor a microbiologist, so why is he spouting off as if he were?”

      Good question. I have spent what I consider a significant amount of time reading a variety of source material about water. I have talked at length with the proprietor of the local water store about how he produces his filtered water and his distilled water. While you are free to disagree with my posits, I feel I have become more familiar with the various methods of purifying water than the average layman.

      I have read and participated in the many discussions on this list about water storage and water prep. You will notice the author of this article touches on water storage which, in my opinion, is equally important as water prep. Light is the enemy of stored water. Temperature also affects storage life.

      My final note is that if you are storing tap water, you need to rotate it and thoroughly clean out the bottles with a bleach solution before you again fill them for storage. Your tap water most likely meets MINIMUM federal standards which, as the name implies are pretty minimal. Most water dispensing entities, both private and public have resisted vigorously, tightening the federal standards as such action would increase the cost of providing water meaning their customers would have to pay more meaning they might seek alternative sources — or heaven forbid, use less water. We had that happen here in SoCal. The community where I live launched a big campaign to cut down on water usage. It was successful. They then raised the water rates because folks weren’t using as much water and so the revenues dropped. That possibly could mean that their over all expenses dropped, but being a public entity a reduction in income stream was unthinkable.

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  3. Sean October 30, 18:13


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  4. Molly October 30, 21:52

    I never see one storage method addressed and that is keeping water frozen. I thoroughly clean (but not sterilize) plastic milk and juice containers and fill them with tap water. These are stored in a freezer. These serve more than just water storage. I have a large chest freezer I no longer need (family is gone) so I keep most of it filled with 1-gallon water jugs, reserving only the space I need for food storage. This would extend food storage time in care of a power outage, and by keeping the freezer full it conserves electricity. What is the problem with that storage method, and, if needed, how could I sterilize plastic milk jugs?

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck October 31, 02:39

      Molly: The problem with plastic jugs that have contained products other than water is that the plastic retains minute traces of the product previously stored. For instance, I use 1 gallon apple juice jugs to bring my distilled water home from the water store. Although I have rinsed them out with disinfecting bleach solution on several occasions and probably filled and emptied them over 50 times, I can still smell the apple odor when I am refilling them and the air is being forced out.

      Now I turn that water around in a week’s time, so I think that I am turning it over quickly enough that there is not time for bacteria to develop to harmful levels. In addition, I wash them out periodically (I should maintain a regular schedule for this) with bleach solution which is of sterilizing strength.

      Milk bottles are even more porous than the juice bottles, so one can only imagine what will happen when the water in those bottles thaws.

      Here is a possible solution: Take one of those bottles out of the freezer, try to take the oldest one if you can identify it. Let it sit on the counter for some period of days. See what happens to the water in the jug in that period of time.

      I save 1-gallon milk jugs but their purpose is to retrieve water before I treat it for contaminants and my treatment consists of distilling the water as opposed to just boiling it. After I have distilled it, I will run the distilled water through an activated charcoal filter to remove any possible heavy metal contaminants that might remain.

      As long as the bottles are frozen solid, there is no problem. The only possible problem I foresee is as the water starts to melt and exceeds 32°F. I prefer bottles that have held water. I drink seltzer water in place of soda. And those are the bottles I use for storing drinking water in the freezer. I use glass gallon jugs that formerly had wine in them for storing drinking water. I found it was cheaper to buy a gallon of wine and use the empty bottle than it was to buy an empty gallon jug. Go figure. I only store distilled water.

      I also store unopened gallon plastic bottles of commercially prepared water. I intend to boil those before consuming them if need them. I store them in cardboard boxes that are dark inside and they have been reinforced so that they can stack and also to add insulation.

      According to the label on my bottle of Clorox, for hospital sanitation, use 1/2 cup of Clorox to 1 gallon of water. Always use unscented Clorox or bleach for disinfecting purposes. There is a panel on my Clorox bottle with different strengths for different disinfecting purposes with how to apply. I don’t know if other brands of household bleach contain similar instructions.

      If I wanted to sanitize the milk jugs, I would use the recommended Clorox solution. However based on my experience with the apple juice jugs, I don’t think you will eliminate the milk residue and eventually the milk jugs will give off an offensive odor. That is speculation. The best way to find out is to test for yourself.

      Apply the disinfecting solution. Add water to the jug when you are done. Let the jug sit out for as long as you would like to conduct the test, but certainly a couple of weeks. Pour the water out where you can smell it. Smell the jug. How does it smell? Be guided by the smell.

      Personally, where I can, I prefer to determine things like how clean to make a bottle for myself rather than take someone else’s word for it. That’s why I would urge you to use the test I outlined or some other test that makes sense to you.

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      • SwampTiger December 5, 15:33

        I use distilled water in a CPAP machine. I refill them with regular water for emergency use. No need to worry about “leftovers” in the container.

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  5. AZdesertrat October 31, 22:11

    Check out l have two of their family size filters. Am planning to use them to filter my stored water and then boil.

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    • left coast chuck November 1, 01:32

      AZ: I would recommend reversing the sequence. Boil the water and then run it through the Lifestraw. Boiling will kill the bacteria and viruses and filtering will remove organic matter that you might not want to ingest. By boiling first, you are then filtering out dead baddies (notice the use of the highly scientific terms) as opposed to possible live baddies and in my opinion, will extend the useful life of your Lifestraw.

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      • AZdesertrat November 1, 11:46

        Thanks LCChuck l was wondering what sequence would be best. That sounds more logical. What do you think about using activated charcoal with this process?

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        • left coast chuck November 2, 20:18

          AZ: I haven’t checked how the family size Lifestraw filters, but my best guess is that activated charcoal is at least part of the process. I bought an electric tabletop distiller and the final step in the distillation process was to run the water through an activated charcoal filter in the spout where the distilled water exited.

          I found with the cost of electricity in my area, it was cheaper to buy distilled water from the water store at 60¢ a gallon than it was to make a gallon of distilled water with my tabletop distiller, counting cost of electricity and the cost of the filter which had to be changed once a month. Plus very limited production of distilled water. My recollection is that it was only capable of six gallons of water a day. Certainly enough for my wife and me, but that required getting up during the night to refill the pot with water. Reasonable production was half that.

          In talking with the commercial distiller, I was surprised to learn that dropping the temperature of the distiller device just a few degrees saved them substantial money on their monthly electric bill. I thought they were using gas to distill the water but not. They use electricity. In a blackout situation, they will be out of business. My tabletop distiller will also be a curio and relic. The outside is plastic, so I won’t be able to use it unless I can remove the outer plastic layer.

          I’m going the old-fashioned still method.

          Reply to this comment
  6. Shane November 2, 20:37

    I have seen these 3gal stackable water bottles at Wally. Does anyone have any experience with them? I’m considering them because they’re stackable. I have to ability to build racks but not the space or funds for lumber.

    Reply to this comment
  7. sp November 3, 01:04

    Kind of think that one only needs limited water storage depending upon where one lives. For most of us small amount of storage that allows for rotation. Secondly there are very few places that do not get rain water. A simple rain roof where part of the rain can be captured and purified as well as filtered should be a part of the water storage. There likely will never be a time when one needs to store more than two years water reserve. This is especially true if one has a way to capture and store thousands of gallons of water for domestic and farm use.

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  8. Handsome Bill January 5, 20:41

    I am currently storing my water in 5 gal plastic water jugs. I use tap water, pour in a capful of bleach, put it on the shelf, cover jugs with the large paper shopping bags, then cover it with a black plastic garbage bag. That keeps the light from the water, Once a year I dump the jugs and refill. There is no bad taste or odor from the water when I dump them

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